cover image The Eternal City

The Eternal City

Kathleen Graber, Princeton, $35 (96p) ISBN 978-0-691-14609-6

Graber is one of the most interesting, slippery and philosophical new poets to come along in a while. This, her second collection, relaunches the Princeton poetry series under the editorship of Paul Muldoon. Graber's lengthy, long-lined, poems take in everything from St. Augustine to Pepperidge Farm Goldfish crackers to a rash of deaths in the poet's own family, and that's in just one poem. From these varied specifics, Graber pulls this kind of haunting wisdom: "We were not written/ to be safe. In the old tales, the woodcutter's daughter's path/ takes her, each time, through the dark forest." What's been written is a constant touchstone for Graber (Correspondence)—perhaps half the poems have an epigraph, from the likes of William Blake, Marcus Aurelius and Walter Benjamin. Those sources, as well as Graber's candid tone, set the poems in the midst of an ongoing conversation with the lessons of history and religion. But what makes Graber's poems so fresh and wild are the associative slips that happen between the distant past and the urgent present,: "Noah lived 350 years/ beyond the flood & became a man of the earth, intoxicated/ in old age on the vines he's raised. Even in our silence,/ we are told, we carry the Word. This morning in the shower,/ I looked down & saw my mother's bar body asleep in mine." (Sept.)